SANTIAGO, Chile — Construction of the first of four Tamandaré-class frigates for the Brazilian Navy is delayed, with the shipbuilding timeline slipping from last month to this September, and commissioning potentially being pushed from 2025 to 2026, sources close to the program told Defense News.
The four frigates are to be built under a $1.7 billion contract awarded early in 2020 to Aguas Azuis, a consortium led by German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. The ships are needed to bolster Brazil’s diminishing and aging fleet of maritime escorts. The contract includes options to build two additional frigates based on an improved design expected to come from experience gained during construction of the first four frigates.
Local media reports blamed the delay on the COVID-19 pandemic. But military sources told Defense News that the shipbuilding work, originally set to begin in late 2021 before it was moved to April 2022, is delayed because Aguas Azuis found problems during the building of a section for a frigate mock-up.
The Navy had requested the mock-up section be built in order to test the capacity of the shipyard to handle modern techniques of naval shipbuilding before giving the greenlight for construction of the real ship. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security reasons, said TKMS is successfully solving the problems.
The company declined to comment for this story, and the Navy did not return a request for comment.
Brazil unveiled its PROSUPER program in 2008, which involved procurement plans for five 6,000-ton frigates, with work on the first vessel to begin in 2013. PROSUPER was the first step in a long-term plan to equip and increase in quantity the Brazilian fleet with 30 escort ships of various sizes. But the global financial crisis forced the South American country to postpone those plans.
Meanwhile, the country’s escort fleet suffered cuts, going from 15 vessels to eight — six aging frigates plus two missile corvettes.
A stopgap plan that would involve local construction of light frigates using the design of the corvette Barroso, plus increased displacement, was under consideration from 2014 to 2016, but eventually fell to the wayside due to technical limitations as well as risks associated with the lack of industrial experience and qualified shipbuilding technicians.
Brazil launched a new program afterward to find an experienced foreign shipbuilder that could provide a proven design and lead local shipbuilding work as the prime contractor. Aguas Azuis won the contract in March 2020 to build the four frigates in cooperation with local firms Embraer Defense and Security as well as Atech.
To meet contractual obligations, TKMS bought the Oceana shipyard in Itajai, in Brazil’s southern state of Santa Catarina, renaming the yard ThyssenKrupp Estaleiro Brasil Sul and upgrading its infrastructure.
According to information released by the Brazilian Navy and TKMS, the Tamandaré-class frigates will be based on the Meko A-100 design. The 3,500-ton multipurpose vessels will each have a length of 107.2 meters and a width of 15.95 meters. They will feature two-shaft propulsion driven by four MAN 12V 28/33 DSTC diesel engines and four Caterpillar C32 diesel generators, for a maximum speed of 28 knots (32 mph).
Their superstructure will have stealth characteristics for reducing radar signature and profile. With a crew of 136, each frigate will have a flight deck and hangar to operate and accommodate a medium-sized helicopter with anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface vessel capabilities as well as a drone.
The unmanned system is Insitu’s ScanEagle Block E, for which Brazil ordered six under a $10 million contract made in late 2019. The UAVs, which are fitted with HoodTech Vision EO900 electro-optical systems, were delivered last month, and operators will now begin training.
Atlas Elektronik’s ANCS combat management system will serve as the brain of the frigates’ combat suite, interfacing and providing data fusion for the coordinated use of sensors, weapon systems and more.
Sensors include Raytheon Technologies’ X and S band radars for navigation and search; an Atlas Elektronik ASO 713 hull-mounted radar; and a TRS-4D multifunction surveillance and target acquisition radar from Hensoldt. Two Paseo XLR extra-long-range, high-definition electro-optical sights from Safran will provide extended monitoring of the frigates’ surroundings. The Paseo can detect and identify small vessels that usually escape the detection of radars, even in poor at-sea conditions.
The anti-shipping missile onboard will be the indigenous MANSUP (otherwise known as AV-RE40), developed by SIATT, Avibras and Omnisys, with characteristics similar to the Exocet MM40. MANSUP is scheduled to undergo a series of live test launches this year, and production is set to start in 2025.
The Sea Ceptor weapon from MBDA will provide air defense. The missile can travel at Mach 3 and has a range of 25 kilometers.
TLS-TT torpedo launching systems from British company Systems Engineering and Assessment are also to be fitted to the frigates, as will the 76/62 Super Rapid gun from Leonardo and the Sea Snake gun from Rheinmetall.
José Higuera is a Latin America correspondent for Defense News.